The Chef at Michael Jordan’s Steak House Will Be James O’Donnell
A few months ago, the news broke that Michael Jordan was unretiring his name on the Chicago restaurant scene—the new Michael Jordan’s Steak House (InterContinental Chicago Magnificent Mile, 505 N. Michigan Ave.; 312-321-8823) is scheduled to open in mid-August in the Zest space. This week, the restaurant announced that James O’Donnell, who opened the first location of the chain in Connecticut, would take his talents to Chicago. Here are some highlights from our conversation with O’Donnell.
“I was a terrible eater as a kid. Peanut butter, no jelly. I hated milk with my cereal. I was the worst for my parents. I feel bad now, but my son is paying me back for the years I tortured them. . . . I worked at a Sizzler as an order taker in high school. I really enjoyed it. Six months later, I was a full-time line cook. Back in the mid-eighties, I was cooking 500 to 600 steaks a night in a suburb of San Diego. . . . When you first get to see your steak [at Jordan’s], it will be cooked. . . . [Steak houses] usually have some fairly rich and decadent sides. Having an intensely large dessert is overkill. We do have one giant dessert. It’s a 23-layer chocolate cake. . . . Raw shellfish towers will be available. . . . A few dishes that we did when we opened Connecticut are going to come down [to Chicago]. Our signature garlic bread with a blue cheese fondue. Some grilled corn with a little smoked chili and lime butter. . . . I think a lot of people come in and want to reinvent the steak house, and I think it’s a bunch of baloney. We are here to honor the tradition of the genre and have a little fun. The steak-house formula doesn’t have to be overthought. The twist is not having a twist anymore.”
“I don’t even know what the curse is. I thought they were talking about the restaurant [Girl & the Goat].” —Mike Quade, the Cubs' manager, in today's Chicago Tribune, in response to Cubs players' “F--- the Goat” pregame warmup T-shirts. The shirts refer to the curse supposedly applied to the team when a goat was not allowed to enter Wrigley Field for the 1945 World Series.
The couple behind Bridgeport’s Han 202, Guan Chen and Yan Ruan, have a contemporary Chinese place in the works down the street. Blue & White Porcelain (742 W. 31st St.; no phone yet), tentatively scheduled to open in October, will serve lunch and dinner and have 100 seats and a full bar. The new place will offer a prix fixe menu for $30 to $50—not quite as silly cheap as Han 202’s $25 but still less than most prix fixes in town—as well as an à la carte menu with entrées running about $15 or $20. We love the off-trend decision to have a name as long as four words. Much better choice than Han 202 2.
Even if it will only hold the title for a few weeks, the newest spot from serial restaurateur Scott Harris opens Sunday: Ethyl’s Beer & Wine Dive (324 S. Racine Ave.; 312-433-0007). Under the toque of Jaysen Euler, Ethyl’s offers bar-food-inspired dishes, such as beer-battered Wisconsin cheese curds with ancho chili aïoli, and classic-inspired dishes, such as bacon and eggs—with house-cured Duroc pork belly, Cheddar stone-ground grits, and two farm eggs with a homemade biscuit. Asked by Dish to plan a standout menu, Euler chose Southern mac and cheese, then roasted beet salad with goat cheese, pickled shallots, and mustard vinaigrette, followed by buttermilk-soaked chicken thighs with white Cheddar and bacon waffles, orange honey butter, and chipotle syrup. And doughnuts stuffed with vanilla custard for dessert. If this is a dive, it’s a back two-and-a-half somersault in the pike position with a half twist.
14 Questions for Ken Robinson
Robinson is the chef/owner at Heat (1570½ N. Damen Ave.; 773-384-4030), a new haute-sausage spot with late-night hours.
Dish: What’s interesting about Heat?
Ken Robinson: I think what’s interesting is that I’m using local companies and other small businesses for a lot of the products. I had a business called The Grasshopper. A coffee shop. I had a small business, and I know how it is.
D: What happened to The Grasshopper?
KR: I moved to Europe. I closed it. I was too far ahead of the curve for the neighborhood. They weren’t ready. That was Ukrainian Village. I opened that in 2002.
D: And now you’re back here running another small business?
KR: My goal at Heat is to franchise. I opened [on June 6]. It’s really nice décor. It’s sort of retro. An artist did a nice mural depicting a hot dog with our logo below it. I’m branding the logo. Of course, I’m doing wild game sausages. I’m using organic beef from Dietzler Farms. Actually, it’s all-natural.
D: What’s the difference?
KR: Organic, the soil has to be certified for seven years through the organic network—whatever it’s called.
D: And all-natural?
KR: It’s just not treated with hormones or chemicals. I’m making a lot of my sausages in-house. I’m also hitting farmers’ markets for produce.
D: What kind of produce are you using?
KR: I use onions and roasted peppers for the sandwiches. I make everything in-house. Like the salmon burger—I make that in-house. The turkey burger—I make that in-house. And the black bean burger as well—I make that in-house. And for foie week, I’m doing foie gras sausages.
D: Foie week? Did you make that up?
KR: It’s real, and it’s this week, actually.
D: Do your sausages come with anything?
KR: Glad you asked. Truffle fries. I do fresh-cut fries. l cut them myself.
D: What makes them truffle fries?
KR: I use a white truffle oil and mix it with butter and herbes de Provence. Wanna know my backstory? What inspired me?
D: Okay, what inspired you?
KR: My inspiration comes from many places. Being a chef, I always liked to make sausages at home. Just shopping around in the country, I pick up different things and always make a sausage out of them. When I was in Martha’s Vineyard, I made a lobster sausage. In Spain, I made something with their pigs. They have a special pig [kurobuta] that eats only acorns.
D: Where are you from?
KR: New York.
D: New York City?
KR: That’s the only place to be.
D: What did you do there?
KR: I worked in fine-dining restaurants, and I was a personal chef for Diddy and for some athletes. The Houston Rockets. The San Diego Chargers.
D: How did you wind up in Chicago?
KR: Food takes you a lot of different places. I’m single at the moment.
Small Bar, Long Recipes
Small Bar (1415 W. Fullerton Ave.; 773-525-2727 and 2049 W. Division St.; 773-772-2727) is launching a new menu—it’s in place at Fullerton and drops July 5 at Division—under its new chef, Justin White (Green Zebra, Custom House, The Bristol). White’s fine-dining background will inform his preparations of homemade dishes using local, seasonal ingredients. “Part of my mission is to provide food that is soundly produced and sourced,” he says. “There’s a lot of technicality that goes into our work, from how we purchase to how we prepare.” Two examples from the new menu:
• Bacon-fried almonds. Almonds are blanched, brined, and toasted, cooked in a smoked-pork stock and brown sugar simple syrup, and then fried in bacon fat. Finally, the almonds are tossed with granulated garlic, onion, and granulated sugar.
• Smoked-chicken club. The chicken comes in a galantine—boned, with the skin rolled around the exterior, and brined. The galantine is smoked for seven hours, then sliced and served with thick slab bacon, Brie, and tomato jam on multigrain toast nearly an inch thick.
These are the kinds of recipes we always consider tackling and then reject—the cookbook equivalent of Infinite Jest.
- Dish spots a food trend, compliments of our dairy-loving neighbors to the north.
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Things to Do
1. Set up camp outside the new Chick-fil-A (30 E. Chicago Ave.; 312-266-8888). Tomorrow at 6 a.m., the first 100 adults in line (the line officially opens tonight at 6 p.m.) will nab free Chick-fil-A meals for a year.
2. Grab a copy of the just-released book Food Lovers’ Guide to Chicago and chat up the author, the local food writer (and former Chicago mag dining critic) Jennifer Olvera, during her book signing at Barnes & Noble (1 E. Jackson Blvd.), June 21 from 6 to 7 p.m. Olvera’s first book spotlights nearby farms, food fests, watering holes, and more than 800 city and suburban restaurants.
3. Indulge in wallet-friendly nibbles. Our picks: 1) a complimentary Patrón Gold margarita when you spring for a $3 dry-aged beef slider at Chicago Cut Steakhouse from 4 to 6 p.m. Thursdays through July; 2) one three-piece cheese flight coupled with one three-taste wine flight—both of the chef’s choosing—for $18 at Le Bar in Café des Architectes Monday through Friday from 3 to 7 p.m.; and 3) a gratis wood-fired pizza with a cocktail, wine, or beer purchase in the bar or lounge at The Florentine Monday through Friday from 4 to 6 p.m.
Dot Dot Dot . . .
Nolan Narut (David Burke’s Primehouse) was named executive chef at Quay, which will open in July. . . . Following on the heels of the chef Perry Hendrix’s relocation to Custom House Tavern, Chicago continues to poach from St. Louis’s acclaimed restaurant Niche, as the pastry chef Mathew Rice moved to Nightwood. . . . Phillip Foss (a.k.a. Mr. Meatyballs) is now taking reservations, lottery-style, via E-mail only, for his stationary digs, El. El, Foss’s collaboration with former Kith & Kin head chef Andrew Brochu, will open July 7 and serve dinner Thursday through Saturday, with one seating at 6 p.m. . . . Autre Monde Cafe & Spirits, a Mediterranean- and Italian-inspired farm-to-table small-plates spot, is set to open Friday. . . . Tzatziki, a Mediterranean quick-serve restaurant with an ordering process modeled after Chipotle’s, opens June 20 in Lincoln Park. . . . Fast-casual joint Curried is open and ready to provide Loop lunchers their Indian food fix. . . . Team Dish extends our condolences to the friends, family, and colleagues of Paramount Room’s Shaun Koch, who lost his battle with brain cancer this week.